On this Day 11th April 1823

St Ives Free School

April 11 1823 saw the opening of “Sir Christopher's School” in St Ives. Sir Christopher was Sir Christopher Hawkins of Trewithen, the local M.P., (see OTD 6 April 1829) and the school was described by John Tregerthen Short (JTS), in his diary entry for 11 April 1823) as a free school for the education of poor children.

Sir Edward Hain, in his notes on the Tregerthen Short diary cynically and probably rightly, assumed that the school was maintained by Hawkins for “a political purpose” but nonetheless he acknowledges that St Ives derived much benefit from the school. He also says that the school charged a penny per week per pupil, so not quite free.

St Ives Free School, Barnoon Hill. The school is the building with the steps.The school was situated on Barnoon Hill and the main subject taught was navigation and related studies such as mathematics. In 1823 schools of this sort seem to have been thin on the ground with navigational skills usually being taught shipboard. The venture does seem to fit in with Hawkins' progressive outlook on industry and commerce, he was an owner and investor in mines and clayworks and it's not hard to understand that he wanted his cargoes to be carried by vessels whose officers knew how to plot a course and determine a position. Shipping losses at this time were alarmingly high and faulty navigation was often a contributory factor.

The master of school was John Tregerthen Short himself, assisted by his cousin Thomas Williams. These two had been apprentices together on the Friendship when it was captured by the French in 1804 and during their subsequent imprisonment they both developed their navigational skills. John Tregerthen Short seems to have been a gifted communicator and teacher, going to some lengths to make his classed both interesting and memorable. He also comes across as a very literate man whose pupils would have required somewhat more than basic literacy to interpret his sometimes whimsically rendered questions, some of which were presented in verse.

The school premises were presumably reasonably commodious as they were used from time to time for meetings of the local worthies. The school was demolished in 1910 and made way for a Picturedrome Cinema.


Diary of John Tregerthen Short

S.J. Haxton, A Star to Steer her By: An Insight into Some Cornish Mariners' Manuscripts, in Royal Institution of Cornwall Journal 2016, p53-68 This is an absorbing read which contains analysis of texts probably written by JTS during his own training and questions set by him for the training of others at the St Ives Free School.

The reference to the demolition of the school is taken from a comment made on the Francis Frith website and has not been verified.

The picture of the school is taken from the online version of the Tregerthen Short Diary. 

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